This review was originally published as part of our Berlin International Film Festival coverage on 24/02/2018.
Beguiling and bewildering from the very opening, in which lead character Madeline is shown to literally transform into a cat and then back into a human, Josephine Decker’s third feature Madeline’s Madeline continues the American director’s penchant for free-form, lyrical works of cinema.
The first act, mostly from Madeline’s perspective, is surreal almost to the point of total abstraction, as her perspective switches from animal to person to animal again in a dreamlike fashion, DoP Ashley Connor having shot most of these sequences using shallow focus. Her loving but tense relationship with her paranoid, overprotective mother takes up much of this time, as Madeline’s condition and deep involvement with her theatre troupe has begun to form a wedge between the two. This dynamic later becomes more stressed by the narcissistic leader of the troupe, Evangeline, who exploits this relationship in an attempt to make a drama out of Madeline’s life (a plot point which itself feels quite self-reflexive).
The film can often feel somewhat impenetrable; the wild digressions and anxiety-inducing acapella soundtrack make it seem as though there’s a chorus of voices pulling Madeline in multiple directions. But for the most part, this intense surrealism enhances the experience. As Madeline attempts to determine her own path, the film becomes more straightforward. Here lies the magic of Madeline’s Madeline, as despite how strange the film gets the emotion behind it is always clear, thanks in part to a strong central performance from Howard. It also helps that it’s a very funny film with some sharp, cutting jokes, but these never come at Madeline’s expense.
Madeline’s Madeline is a fascinating, often astonishing experimental work that obliterates the traditional structure of coming-of-age movies, but despite how abstract things may get, the emotion driving it remains crystal-clear.
CAST: Helena Howard, Miranda July, Molly Parker, Okwui Okpokwasili, Sunita Mani, Felipe Bonilla, Lisa Tharps, Curtiss Cooke, Reynaldo Piniella, Myra Lucretia Taylor
DIRECTOR: Josephine Decker
WRITER: Josephine Decker
SYNOPSIS: A theater director’s latest project takes on a life of its own when her young star takes her performance too seriously.